I’m reading Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s right up my alley—a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Bennett servants at Longbourn.
I’m pretty certain that had I lived in Regency-era pastoral England, I would have lived downstairs, baking the puddings and scrubbing the linen of the gentry upstairs. Some of Dutch’s real-life ancestors came from outside Cambridge, where one William G. was a gardner at a great house. We descend from the honest working class.
This book has gorgeous imagery and historical astuteness rivaling a Geraldine Brooks novel. Reading about the ins and outs of the invisible characters who made life possible for the gentlefolk has got me appreciating indoor plumbing, washers and dryers, paved roads, automobiles, modern medicine, and the fact that now we have employment and education possibilities beyond the limits of our birth.
I move that we all give thanks for the option of mobility through social strata. Seriously though.
This book has me mulling over what daily drudgery is. For the Bennetts, the Bingleys, the Darcys, and their ilk, a life of pleasure happened above while a bevy of workers handled the distasteful tasks below.
Though I identify with Sarah, the Bennetts’ housemaid, I found myself today wishing I had a helpful housemaid below stairs. I wished I could summon her to clean up the “hippo-sized poo” (according to Henry) that Jack planted on the living room rug. I would’ve let her handle the handprint deuce streaks on the bathroom door, and the piles of laundry created by two boys who can’t ever keep their pants on. Literally. I would’ve outfitted her with the shop vac and asked her to remove all traces of Cap’n Crunch from the floor, along with all the other crushed remains of mealtime.
Meanwhile, I would’ve dozed by the fire like Mr. Bennett, or played the pianoforte like Mary.
But the only people below stairs here are the boys playing Xbox.
It’s okay. There is something to be said for cleaning one’s own house and handling one’s own hippo-sized kid poo disasters.
There is also definitely something to be said for the husband who handles shop-vac duty and kitchen cleanup, and who brings you dinner in bed, where you sit beneath an electric blanket while reading about servants in an Austen-era country house.